President Chaos

Exactly the opposite of what we need in a crisis.

“#USAxAUS” by White House is in the Public Domain

A specific concern a lot of us had about a Trump presidency was how would an inexperienced, erratic, egotistical, reality TV star govern in a time of crisis. How would he handle a war? A major terrorist attack? A major economic crisis? For the first three years of his presidency, we were lucky not to find out.

We are no longer so lucky.

I will confess that “global pandemic” was not on my list of major concerns, but here we are.

Of the amazing things about this current crisis is that it was the type of issue that should have been the best chance for a president (any president) to step up and lead in a fashion that fostered unity because fighting diseases is inherently nonpartisan (or, at least, should be).

As I wrote four weeks ago:

An outbreak of this type is the kind of event that should allow the federal government to act in a competent and largely non-partisan manner. After all, we have structures in place (the Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Disease Control, and National Institutes of Health, etc) to address these things. Moreover, virii don’t care if you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or are apolitical.

As such, it is not unreasonable to expect any administration to approach these things with some level of competence and in a non-partisan manner.

(Side note: it should be “viruses” not “virii”/”viri.”)

But, of course, while people like Anthony Fauci have displayed the type of approach I describe, and Mike Pence largely sounds like a more typical politician than does Trump, Trump himself is nothing less than an agent of chaos. Moreover, there has been a clear lack of federal direction as a result.

James Joyner noted the most recent example in a post earlier today: Trump tweeting that he was considering a quarantine (sorry, QUARANTINE) of NY/NJ/CT.

This was insane. First, this isn’t the kind of thing one muses about publicly. This is the kind of thing one either does or does not do, and only then once there is a plan in place. Second, as many have observed, announcing that one is thinking about a quarantine motivates the potentially quarantinable to start moving about before the quarantine can be put in place (you know, the opposite of what such a policy would be designed to accomplish).

He played a similar kind of chaotic policy-go-round when he announced the travel ban on most of Europe (including mistakenly stating it would cover trade). It was done without any planning and led to panicked Americans packing into US airports and spending hours in close quarters as they passed through customs and immigration.

Another example of chaos seeding is the ongoing fights he is picking with governors across the country, as I noted yesterday. Indeed, it would seem that the consideration of quarantine of NY/NJ/CT was very much about politics. I have little doubt that part of the motivation was to upstage Governor Cuomo, who has been a far more competent leader in this crisis than has Trump.

As Trump engages in attacks of various governors, the federal government appears to be playing favorites:

Florida has been an exception in its dealings with the stockpile: The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later, according to figures from the state’s Division of Emergency Management. It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.

“The governor has spoken to the president daily, and the entire congressional delegation has been working as one for the betterment of the state of Florida,” said Jared Moskowitz, the emergency management division’s director. “We are leaving no stone unturned.”

President Trump repeatedly has warned states not to complain about how much they are receiving, including Friday during a White House briefing, where he advised Vice President Pence not to call governors who are critical of the administration’s response. “I want them to be appreciative,” he said.

Source: WaPo, “Desperate for medical equipment, states encounter a beleaguered national stockpile

It is noteworthy that Florida figured into the NY quarantine talk:

Trump had indicated earlier that he was responding to worries in other states, particularly Florida, that travelers from the greater New York City area could spread COVID-19 in their communities.

He told reporters that “heavily infected” New Yorkers were a threat to Florida, a popular southern holiday destination for people in the northeast.

Source: AFP, “Trump decides against quarantine of New York region” (Originally quoted by James).

The federal government’s job should be to rationally (as best as it can) allocate resources in a time of crisis. It should not play favorites because of the party affiliation of a given governor, swing-state status, or location of the president’s golf resort.

Let me quote myself (from a sub-title of a post about the Ukraine scandal): “Public resources do not belong to the president to use for private gain.”

And yet, this is how he governs.

Let me note, too, that Trump is sending mixed messages. One day he is talking about getting back to work, the other he is talking about shutting down whole states. President Chaos strikes again.

A story on NPR’s Weekend Edition (Local Governments Race To Administer Coronavirus Tests, Secure Supplies) reports on how cities and states are competing with one another to obtain supplies because the federal government is failing in its basic responsibilities.

And, of course, Trump’s daily press conferences are more Aló Preisdente* than an informative event. He muses about anti-malarial drugs and opening up the country by Easter instead of presenting clarity.

Further, the politics that Trump fosters leads to things like this (via the NYT): Medical Expert Who Corrects Trump Is Now a Target of the Far Right.

An analysis by The New York Times found over 70 accounts on Twitter that have promoted the hashtag #FauciFraud, with some tweeting as frequently as 795 times a day. The anti-Fauci sentiment is being reinforced by posts from Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group; Bill Mitchell, host of the far-right online talk show “YourVoice America”; and other outspoken Trump supporters such as Shiva Ayyadurai, who has falsely claimed to be the inventor of email.

Trump’s governing style also leads to situations like this (via the NYT): For Dr. Deborah Birx, Urging Calm Has Come With Heavy Criticism.

this week, Dr. Birx’s comments casting doubt on talk of ventilator and hospital-bed shortages, and praising Mr. Trump’s attention to detail in lavish terms, have raised questions about her independence as the number of coronavirus infections in the United States has soared past 100,000.

Practically overnight, Dr. Birx has become a partisan Rorschach test. Conservative commentators have praised her as a truth-teller, pushing back on coronavirus hysteria. Critics of Mr. Trump accused her of squandering the credibility she had developed as a health official in Democratic and Republican administrations.

Dr. Birx’s comments, especially those dismissing ventilator shortages, startled some health experts. While most hospitals might have sufficient supplies at the moment, many worry about a crush of patients in the very near future.

Trump is fostering an environment in which expertise is subsumed under partisanship and wherein even experts have to fawn if they don’t want to be fired. It is not what we need from the White House.

Fundamentally, Trump inherited a strong economy which he was able to juice with tax cuts fueled by deficit spending (i.e., he stimulated an already good situation). The lack of any serious shocks allowed him to coast. He never really had to govern and certainly never learned much of anything. He has increasingly dismantled or interim-ified much of the federal government that we find it hampered in its ability to act in this moment.

No doubt, he will sow more chaos today.

*h/t to Chris Lawrence for using that reference on Twitter this week.

FILED UNDER: Environment, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kit says:

    What does it mean when people now love Trump more than ever? I really have no answer to that.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Agreed. Tiny is being Tiny and we will all suffer because of it.

    November can’t come fast enough.

  3. CSK says:

    I think it means that their hatred of the press, Democrats, and most Republicans is so intense and all-pervasive that it overcomes any vestige of rationality.

    Cult45 doesn’t just identify with Trump; it’s merged its identity with his. Trump is despised by the “elites.” That’s all they need to know.

  4. Daniel K. Weir says:

    The best thing we can do as Americans is to STOP listening to the Right.
    That includes President Trump.
    That also includes the vast right-wing commentariat (you know, Rush Limbaugh; Laura Ingraham; Sean Hannity; “Fox and Friends”; DOCTOR Victor Davis Hanson; Seth Leibsohn; Dennis Prager; Ben Stein; Charles Hurt; Joel Kotkin; Pat Buchanan; David Duke; Chuck Harder; Ross Perot; Lyndon LaRouche; Craig Smith; Tom Fitton; Roger Kimball; Mollie Hemingway; Mark Hemingway; Paul Bedard; John Leo; Heather Mac Donald; Angelo Codevilla; Thomas McArdle; William Murchison; Alex Costellanos; Steve Hilton; Greg Gutfeld; Mark Levin; Mike Crowder; Richard Spencer; Michael Goodwin; John Crudele; DOCTOR Pat Choate; William McGurn; Scott Jenkins; Kimberly Strassel; Ronna McDaniel; Tim Murtaugh; etc., etc.)
    Boycott them. Ignore them. Shut them down. Pretend they don’t exist.

  5. Mister Bluster says:

    @Daniel K. Weir:..Pretend they don’t exist.
    I tried that with Lyndon LaRouche while he was alive and it seemed to work ok for me.
    I am aware of many of these other names, some of whom I’ve been compelled to speak out against, like Limbaugh, when I hear citizens parrot their rants.
    I suspect the ones I do not recognize are Radio Gasbags too.

  6. Kingdaddy says:

    Is the lack of transparency into medical equipment stockpiles and shipments a crime? You’d think there would be laws compelling transparency, for the very reasons we’re seeing. Or maybe not, because no one thought a president could achieve these heights of venality.

  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kingdaddy: Hard to get action on a crime when the agency of justice and the perpetrator of the crime are the same government.

  8. Mu Yixiao says:

    Enough with stating the obvious.

    How do we change things?

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    How do we change things?

    We don’t. We have nine more months of this at a minimum. Trump cannot learn, cannot grow, cannot improve. And we cannot get rid of him.

  10. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    What Trump can do he will; he will keep getting worse and worse as the senility progresses.

  11. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Could a foreign enemy have done more damage to the U.S. in a short time than Agent Orange and his red-capped worshipers have actually done?

  12. DrDaveT says:


    Could a foreign enemy have done more damage to the U.S. in a short time than Agent Orange and his red-capped worshipers have actually done?

    Depending on exactly what Trump’s relationship with Putin is, and how much effect Russia’s social media meddling had, perhaps a foreign enemy did.